I heard a statistic somewhere that the majority of library users — as high as 85–90% — utilize their public library’s website solely for placing holds and other account related things. Even then, a lot of people who have library cards hardly use their library’s website at all, preferring to go to the building to explore the shelves and displays, maybe talk to staff, and wander out again. And even more than that, there are the communities where not everyone has a library card, for whatever reason. Depending on how big your community is, and how big your library is, that can add up to a LOT of people not taking full advantage of what your library has to offer.
With the obvious caveat that not all libraries are created equal, and therefore not all library websites are created equal — size, budget, and staff time notwithstanding — library websites can be hella useful, and even fun. Not only is it the place you go to look at the catalog, place your holds, and pay your fines (if your library still has them), but it can be a great place to see what the library is up to, read about interesting services or collections, and add to your mountainous TBR. There are whole website design platforms, like BiblioCommons, that are specifically for libraries, and offer fun little additions to the title, author, and ISBN that every catalog record carries. Other libraries are a little more home grown, but use free tools like WordPress to provide similar content — interesting tidbits, book lists, and more.
One of the things I do in my other life is help produce content for my library system’s website, so this whole thing is very near and dear to my heart. There are so many things I never would have done and books I might not have picked up if I hadn’t seen a review by a fellow library staffer or a list of books on a theme that sounded fascinating. So take it from me: you want to regularly visit your library’s website and see what they’ve been up to.
Here are some things you might be able to do.
Find Events And Other Cool Things
When was the last time you checked out your library’s events calendar? I don’t know about yours, but my library has so many (at least before COVID times) that a paper calendar wouldn’t cut it. Nowadays, all of the events on our calendar that aren’t art displays are virtual, but results may vary in your own area. And while book clubs and online storytimes are great, there might also be classes and cool presentations and maybe even virtual show and tell — anything from a local juggler all the way up to a visit from a world-famous author. You won’t know what you can find there until you look.
Learn Something New
Sure, there’s information everywhere, but how much of it is written by people who are experts on research? And I’m not just talking about hitting up a few research databases and exploring on your own (though as an online resources librarian, I definitely recommend dropping into those every once in a while). Some library websites are chock full of blogs (or something similar), whether they’re hosted on the site itself or they link out to a hosted blog site. Depending on the availability and interest of staff, these blogs could be about anything from local history to the origin of Cinco de Mayo. Maybe they’ll even use these blogs to link to those aforementioned research databases (so you can get more information) or they’re just cool information somebody wanted to write about and had time and a platform to do so. Support your local writing-inclined library staff and read their content, friends.
Find Your Next Read (Or Watch Or Listen)
This might be obvious, but library staff love to talk about books. Depending on how dynamic your library’s website might be, you might find book reviews, or book lists on a theme, or even ways to get personalized reading recommendations. The next time you open the record for a book, scroll down to see if it includes reviews by readers and staff, or if it’s on a list. If your website has blogs or pages featuring recommended reading lists based on a theme, check them out; you might end up picking up a book you never thought you’d be interested in because it was on a list of books about twins, or something. Or if there’s a place where new books are highlighted, have a wander and see what you might find. Depending on their purchasing practices, libraries might be getting new books every day, and it’s always nice to see what’s come in without having to search for something specific. The website is basically a repository for the digital version of book displays, so use it! It’s there to help you! If you’re not sure what you want to read next or just want to add more books to your TBR (because who doesn’t?), the library website is a great place to be inspired.
So next time you drop into your library’s website — whether it’s for the first time or the 500th — remember that there are library staff (or maybe even volunteers or members of the community) who are sharing their shiny rocks with you. They could be fun stories about the community, or the history of the region, or a deep dive into a special topic. Or even actual shiny rocks. You never know.